A Bold New Explication of Jewish Tradition Argues That Its Beliefs Are Justified by Its Practice

In his recent book Judaism Straight Up (reviewed in Mosaic here), the legal scholar and computer scientist Moshe Koppel offers an unusual and vigorous apologia for both Orthodox Judaism and for tradition itself. He does this through a study of two Jewish character types, the pious Shimen and the educated, liberal, cosmopolitan Heidi. Mark Gottlieb observes:

A pillar of Koppel’s argument is the priority of actions over beliefs, of concrete forms of life over grand narratives. Of course, he acknowledges the interdependence of these things, but as a matter of principle and practiced experience, he privileges behaviors as the decisive factor in religious decision-making. . . . Koppel insists that . . . “virtues and traditions are primary and beliefs are derivative.”

Koppel acknowledges that Shimen was raised at home and ḥeder (the primary-school version of yeshiva) to believe certain things. The most foundational of these include God’s revelation of the Torah to the Jewish people at Sinai, a system of reward and punishment expressing God’s ubiquitous, if not always transparent, justice, and the promise of a redeemed world at the end of history. But for Koppel, these affirmations coalesce into the single belief that Judaism is a “directed process linking the Jewish past with the Jewish future.” The rest, Koppel says, is commentary.

Now, it’s fine for a philosophical mathematician like Koppel to abstract the multifariousness of Jewish practice and belief into one pithy formula, but the learned game theorist is making a bolder, perhaps more controversial claim. Stated baldly, it’s this: the real subject matter of Jewish belief is Jewish practice.

And Jewish practice (like the beliefs that encode that practice) is a self-regulating, self-reinforcing system, which does not stand or fall on the evidentiary record or on the veracity of the historical events on which the faith is founded.

Read more at First Things

More about: Judaism, Moshe Koppel, Tradition


Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University